A big story in the media today is that pending government shutdown is looming if a budget is not passed by Sunday. The coverage I am seeing makes it sound like this is the first time this has ever happened. Realistically, not passing a Federal budget in time has become more a standard operating procedure for Congress. It is usually the result of the two political parties refusing to support any budgetary proposals put forward by the other.
What normally happens is a Continuing Resolution is passed authorizing Federal Agencies to spend a percentage of what they did the year before. One of the complications to this system is that Federal agencies may not know what their budget is for the year until half way through the fiscal year. This does not allow for proper planning, scheduling, or efficient and affective spending of funds once they are approved.
Back in the early 1990s we faced a true shut down when Congress had still not approved a budget and could not even agree on an additional Continuing Resolution. October is one of the busiest months of the year in the Eastern parks and the start of the Federal Fiscal year. In mid October all Government Agencies were ordered to shut down all non essential services. On the Blue Ridge Parkway the Superintendent determined that only supervisors were to be considered essential personnel and all others were to be sent home and all public facilities closed. As the James River District Ranger I was the only supervisor in our division and had to send home all of my staff immediately and then proceed to clear all the visitors out and close two major picnic areas and a campground that happened to be near capacity of occupation. The fact that these areas were separated over a distance of 70 miles also made this task more challenging. I believe that I was cursed and verbally abused more on that one day then in the rest of my 32 year career. No one told the public not to come to the most visited National Park Service area during the fall color season. What they found were no campsites, no visitor centers, no park ranger programs, and most importantly no restrooms.
This continued for about ten days. At first I was the only park ranger in the District that could work and respond to emergencies. After several days the decision was made that one non supervisory park ranger per district could work per day. No one knew if they would be paid for this time or not. All other employees stayed home.
Eventually a budget bill was passed and all employees were paid their regular pay for the time they were off. So while park rangers worked others had a paid vacation. But the largest impact was on the visitors whose National Park experiences were disrupted.
Today all Law Enforcement Commissioned National Park Rangers are considered essential personnel. So should another government closure happen, public safety and protection of sensitive resources can still be assured.